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Cheney, Harper and the misuses of 9/11

Rather than being "the day that changed everything," as the cliché goes, 9/11 was more like the day when a disgusting crime provided a new pretext for existing reactionary trends. And so followed military occupations or interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and beyond, as well as torture at Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib (or in the dungeons of the Libyan, Syrian and Egyptian regimes after rendition by the U.S., U.K. and others).

War, torture, "extraordinary rendition" -- this is what defines their post-9/11 legacy.

We can be proud of our post-9/11 legacy of activism against war, torture and rollbacks of civil liberties. Undoubtedly things could have been much worse if not for these collective efforts. Most poignant and symbolic of all, perhaps, was the work of 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, who grieved and demanded peace together with Afghan war mothers and widows.

The so-called "war on terror" was proclaimed in Washington, D.C., but its tropes were taken up by Moscow for use against Chechens, Tel Aviv against Palestinians, Beijing against the Uyghurs and Tibetans.

And so on, as every repressive and aggressive state exploited the tragedy to legitimize its systematic policies of domination -- the Canadian government no exception. 

Earlier this week, Peter Mansbridge and Stephen Harper sat down on the grounds of 24 Sussex Drive for a tête-à-tête on the topic of Canada 10 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States.

In the preamble to Mansbridge's first question, the CBC chief correspondent implied some dismay that Canadians were dubious about the so-called "war on terror":

"Prime minister, I was kind of surprised this week when I read a survey that suggested that most Canadians still feel that the war on terror can't be won, that Afghanistan wasn't worth the cost, and that the world is not a better place 10 years later..."

From there, it was pretty much slow pitch all the way. The rest of the interview was free swings for Harper.

Even Jean Chrétien was held up for ridicule. They showed a 2002 clip of then Prime Minister Chrétien explaining, in his inimical choppy English, that for him 9/11 was a time to reflect on the consequences of the western world's excessive greed and power. Harper said that Chrétien had deserved the criticism he took at the time for those comments, and continued on with an answer rambling all the way to justifying Canada's presence in Haiti.

Of course Chrétien had not asserted a direct cause and effect; he was saying we should take the tragedy of 9/11 as an opportunity to think about global inequality, which leaves so many people living with constant insecurity.

To contextualize is not to imply direct causality. And to explain is not to excuse.

The necessary context for understanding the roots of 9/11 and similar attacks, of course, is much more complex and wide-ranging than simply inequality. The unjust, self-interested action of imperial states figures prominently in any backgrounder to the emergence of the particular strain of fanaticism that led to 9/11 and other related attacks. To name just three examples, for instance: the British policy of divide and rule in South Asia and its still festering wound of Kashmir, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia's oil-rich despots and other extremists in stamping out leftists and.secular nationalists.

The right-wing position, however, is to disallow any of this sort of context. This stance was asserted about discussion of 9/11 and, more recently, about the London riots too. With relevant socio-economic-political details thus evacuated, raw, unthinking fear has more space to operate. And fear is the bedrock of right-wing politics, leading as it does inexorably to militarist and law and order "solutions."

In fact, the really inexcusable thing is to not investigate the historical and political context of a tragedy like 9/11. And the only thing more reprehensible than that is to hijack the public's understandable grief and worry in the service of political and economic interests.

This, of course, is precisely what the Bush administration did. As then chief of counter-terrorism Richard Clarke has famously described, by the morning of September 12, 2001 key neo-conservatives in Bush's cabinet were already planning to use 9/11 as a pretext to wage a war of aggression against Iraq.

Chief among this gang was Vice-President Dick Cheney, who is currently promoting his new book, In My Time. In a couple of weeks, Cheney will take his first book promotion junket outside of the United States, speaking in Vancouver and Calgary at events hosted by Leah Costello, a member of the West Vancouver Conservative Party of Canada Electroal District Association.

Rather than allowing a fellow Conservative to fête Cheney in Canada, Harper should ban this war criminal or have him arrested upon entry. As Lawyers Against War explains, this is in fact required under Canadian and international law.

Later in that CBC interview, Harper asserted that "Islamicism" was the greatest threat to Canadian security, and that "anti-terror" laws -- including extraordinary police powers -- that expired in 2007 should be re-introduced.

For Harper, then, this 9/11 anniversary was another chance to play wedge politics, stoking the fires of Islamophobia with his awkward word choice but no doubt carefully chosen remarks. It was also a chance for Harper to revive unnecessary restrictions on civil liberties, draconian measures that were in fact originally brought in by Chrétien.

Divisive politics to justify repressive legislation -- this is classic Harpericism at work. So excuse me if I'm unimpressed with Harper's announcement that 9/11 will be consecrated as a "Day of Service" in Canada.

For us, this 9/11 anniversary should be a chance to remember the victims of the horrific crime committed in 2001 and those who died in the wars waged in its wake. It should also be a chance to remember the victims of another crime committed on 9/11, 1973: the coup d'etat against the elected government of Chile, backed by the U.S., in which more than 3,000 died and many more were exiled.

To really do justice to all the 9/11 victims, we can redouble our demands that those who misused their memory to launch illegal wars be prosecuted and jailed.

We can also redouble our efforts not to let their murders be the pretext for new wars and ongoing attacks on civil liberties. That is the best way to really serve the memory of all the victims of the past decade's carnage.

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